Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy holidays

I'd like to wish all of my readers happy holidays and to thank everyone for your many contributions in 2008. This will be my last post until the new year, so I'll see you again in January. Until then (and after), peace.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New to the blog roll

New to the blog roll is Catherine Grant's Film Studies for Free. Catherine is "a full-time researcher and writer on film and culture, affiliated with the School of Film and Media at the University of Sussex [England] as a Visiting Research Fellow." What's great about her site, beyond all the Film Studies resources and smart commentary she provides, is her steadfast commitment to open access. The tag line of Film Studies for Free reads, "commentary on and links to online open-access film studies resources of note." Catherine is one of a growing contingent of humanities scholars who have recognized that scholarship is only as good as its instruments of production, exchange, and propagation.

Her latest post is about Daniel Frampton's book Filmosophy (Columbia University Press, 2007), which I blogged about back in March 2007. There I expressed concern about a disclaimer that accompanied the book's advertising. It indicated that the term "filmosophy" was a registered trademark of Valentin Stoilov. At the time I wondered how the literal ownership of ideas would affect the production of scholarly knowledge and critique. Catherine's blog shows us a better way in its embodiment of the principles of open access.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Going commercial

Above you'll find a promo video for a Columbia University Press book called American Pests. Tomorrow I'm shooting one of these promos for my book, The Late Age of Print. I'm excited to do it, but at the same time I'm feeling a little daunted. I've done my best to avoid video blogging and indeed entering into the video age more generally. I guess it's all finally catching up with me.

What's intriguing about the prospect of shooting a video for my book--beyond whatever potential there may be for getting the latter noticed--is what the promo tells us about the changing nature of book authorship. Never did I imagine having to become a multimedia personality when I began work on The Late Age of Print. I certainly wasn't trained for that in graduate school!

I suppose I was operating under what is, today, an increasingly antiquated understanding of authors and their work. That is, I had erroneously assumed that authors still could get away only with writing words and perhaps making an occasional public (i.e., "live") presentation of their work. I should have known better, given the arguments and subject matter of The Late Age of Print. If university presses are on to making videos, moreover, then you can be pretty sure the era in which authors were strictly writers has just about come to an end. Video killed the radio star twenty five years ago. Today, video has just about finished off the reclusive book writer, too.

I'll let you know how the shoot turns out, and once the promo is finished I'll post it here. It will also be available on the Columbia University Press "channel" on YouTube.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Kindle paper v. 2.0 now live

Back in October I presented a paper called "Kindle: The New Book Mobile or, the Labor of Reading in an Age of Ubiquitous Bookselling" at the American Studies Association convention in Albuquerque, NM. Before the conference I had posted a working draft of the Kindle piece on the Differences & Repetitions Wiki site, where I received amazing feedback.

Anyway, I've been pecking away at the paper some more and have posted the beta version to D&RW. This one isn't an outline, in contrast to the previous iteration. Version 2.0 also contains a more substantive conclusion, which incorporates some of the feedback I received on the initial draft.

I'm not looking to crowdsource feedback on the new version of the Kindle paper per se, although as always comments are indeed welcome and can be left right on the worksite. I've also included a new feature on all D&RW pages allowing you to share material easily on Facebook,, Furl, MySpace, and elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"...not a democracy"

There was a telling moment in last night's Inside the Actors Studio interview with Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter in the film adaptation of the bestselling book series. About midway through the video sequence embedded above, host James Lipton asks Radcliffe how he felt about the various romantic pairings author J. K. Rowling had crafted for her characters. Lipton then admits that he once believed Harry and Hermione Granger would eventually end up together, whereupon the studio audience applauds. "Vox populi," Lipton observes.

Radcliffe's response? "The Harry Potter series is not a democracy." Truer words haven't been spoken.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Houston, we have a cover

At long last my book, The Late Age of Print, has a cover. I absolutely love it.

The cover is designed around an image by the photographer Cara Barer, whose work my friend Rachel turned me on to. (Thanks, Rachel.) I like how it captures both the beauty and grunginess of printed books--their persistence and decay--in our time. This is one of the key themes or tensions that I explore throughout The Late Age of Print. I'm thrilled with how the designers at Columbia University Press have managed to capture and convey it with such simplicity.

The other bit of good news is that The Late Age of Print is now listing on, with a release date set for sometime in March 2009. You cannot yet pre-order it, unfortunately, since the book hasn't been priced. You can sign up to be notified by email when it becomes available, though.

I just received the final page proofs yesterday, incidentally, and the book is being indexed as we speak. What a joy to watch the text's transformation into an artifact! Stay tuned for more.

P.S. A quick update to say that The Late Age of Print is now available for pre-order on It costs $27.50 in hardback, which, given the price of academic books these days, is a pretty good deal. Kudos to Columbia University Press for keeping the price down.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Books and the business of business models

My friend Dustin Howes alerted me to this recent Q&A with author Seth Godin, who talks about the future of the book biz. Here's an excerpt:
Q: What's the most important lesson the book publishing industry can learn from the music industry?

A: The market doesn't care a whit about maintaining your industry. The lesson from Napster and iTunes is that there's even MORE music than there was before. What got hurt was Tower and the guys in the suits and the unlimited budgets for groupies and drugs. The music will keep coming. Same thing is true with books. So you can decide to hassle your readers (oh, I mean your customers) and you can decide that a book on a Kindle SHOULD cost $15 because it replaces a $15 book, and if you do, we (the readers) will just walk away. Or, you could say, "if books on the Kindle were $1, perhaps we could create a vast audience of people who buy books like candy, all the time, and read more and don't pirate stuff cause it's convenient and cheap..." I'm a pessimist that the book industry will learn from music. How are you betting?
I'm so pleased to hear someone else saying to the book industry, "lower your prices to generate interest and increase sales." This was my basic argument when I blogged last June about the Amazon e-reader, Kindle, and the possibilities it opened up for the book biz to rethink its pricing strategies.

The rest of Godin's Q&A is definitely worth checking out. He has lots of interesting material there on "content" versus "book" publishing (the latter he refers to as "the life and death of trees"), as well as on the importance of publishers servicing, rather than simply making money from, their markets.

Here's hoping his thoughts don't fall on deaf ears.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Transversal on translation

You may not know this, but one of my ongoing side projects revolves around the idea and practice of translation. I've written about it in a short chapter in the volume I co-edited called Communication as...: Perspectives on Theory. (Surprise, surprise--my contribution is called, "Communication as Translation.") I've also presented some other work on the subject here and there at various conferences.

Anyway, I was pleased to receive an email announcement this morning alerting me to the latest issue of the journal Transversal (pictured above), whose theme is, "Talks on Translation." Definitely check it out.

Like Traces (Hong Kong University Press), which is easily one of the most thought-provoking book series in cultural studies today, Transversal publishes all of its articles in multiple languages simultaneously. The result is a remarkably multilingual and heterodox forum for intellectual exchange about culture, politics, and the politics of culture.

In contrast to most books and journals in cultural studies and beyond, these publications don't merely pay lip service to principles of difference, decentering, and globalization. Instead, they embody them. They do so by compelling authors, editors, and readers to engage a diverse global intellectual community, with all the difficulties and opportunities that entails.

Remarkable stuff.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Thank you, America, for...

  • voting in record numbers.
  • recognizing that your vote does make a difference.
  • showing us that red can indeed become blue.
  • understanding what "change" really means.
  • knowing when enough's enough.
  • lifting the veil of tyranny.
  • celebrating last night in the streets.
  • bringing out your best selves when you were baited to bring out your worst.
  • choosing someone unashamed to utter the word "peace" in public.
  • showing that Presidents need not only be named John, Bill, James, or George.
  • determining before bedtime who would be the next President of the United States.
  • electing Barack Obama!
From the bottom of my heart, America, thank you. Now help this list grow by adding to it in the comments, posting it to social networking sites, and circulating it via email.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"Acknowledged Goods" now live

Last May I posted a short snippet of a paper I was working on to the Differences & Repetitions Wiki. It was called "Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Academic Journal Publishing." The title summarizes the principal focus of the piece. Essentially I wanted to ask: why hasn't the field of cultural studies given its instruments of scholarly communication--journals especially--more critical scrutiny?

I was encouraged by the many comments and questions I received in response to the two pairs of paragraphs and tables that I had posted online. I kept plugging away at "Acknowledged Goods" into the summer and finished a draft sometime in late June. I've been meaning to post the completed piece to D&RW, but unfortunately other responsibilities have gotten in the way.

Until now, that is. I've finally managed to get "Acknowledged Goods" properly formatted for the wiki, so at long last you can read the whole essay by clicking here. Since this is a longer and much more nuanced version of the work I posted back in May, I'm still very interested in hearing your feedback. Indeed, "Acknowledged Goods" remains a work in progress, so your comments, questions, and concerns will only help as I keep tweaking the piece.

I hope that you enjoy "Acknowledged Goods" and, more important, that it spurs you to action. Academic journal publishing is at a critical crossroads right now, and cultural studies ought to weigh in on its present and future directions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The DMCA 10, years on

If you can believe it, today is the 10th anniversary of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. This is the sweeping piece of legislation that, among its many provisions, criminalized the hacking of digital rights management technologies. In the process, it also criminalized activities that were once perfectly legal and commonplace, such as making personal dupes of copyrighted materials you already owned. So thanks for rolling back our hard-fought fair use rights, technology and entertainment lobbies! It's been a great decade.

P.S. If you're searching for a more sympathetic account of the DMCA, you might want to check out this blog post.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kindle + Oprah = game changer?

Leave it to Oprah Winfrey. She's already changed what people read. Now she's out to change how they read by giving's e-reading device, Kindle, her coveted endorsement.

Oprah's official announcement came today on The Oprah Winfrey Show, although for several days now Amazon has been teasing the big news on its home page.

Amazon has been excruciatingly tight-lipped about who's been buying Kindle and how many units it's managed to sell. The consensus among technology commentators seems to be this: since its debut last November, Kindle has found its way mostly into the hands of older, gadget-savvy early adopters who don't mind dropping $350 on a stand alone mobile e-reading device.

Given how few people I've actually seen with a Kindle, I'd venture to say this is a rather small cadre indeed. Significantly, all but one of the Kindle users I've observed over the last year has been male.

In other words, Winfrey's endorsement could prove to be a real game changer. She has enormous reach among women between the ages of 18 and 54. That, combined with the Oprah Book Club, makes her an extraordinarily influential figure with exactly the population that purchases the most books in the United States.

The real challenge, it seems to me, will be for Winfrey to persuade her audience to part with a large chunk of cash during a major economic downturn. Amazon's decision to offer a $50 "Oprah Winfrey" rebate--about 15% off of Kindle's retail price--will be a major incentive in this regard. (By the way, the rebate also happens to be a smart way for Amazon to move its existing stock of Kindles to make way for generation 2.0.)

The other challenge will be for Winfrey to convince her audience that what makes a book a book are its words and images, and not its physical form. That could prove to be an even harder sell in the long run. As Jeff Gomez has observed in his book Print is Dead, it's hard for many people to shake the image of books as things made of paper, ink, and glue, which they're supposed "to bay windows on autumn days, basking in the warm glow of a fireplace with a cup of chamomile by their side."

The genius of Kindle is to marry e-reading with on-the-go book distribution. Its downfall thus far (beyond the concerns I've raised about its interface and matters of privacy) has been Amazon's apparent inability to connect the device with less gadget-inclined book readers. And in this regard, Oprah's endorsement of Kindle can only help bring e-reading to within eyeshot of the mainstream.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A momentous day in history

Happy birthday, photocopier! You're 70 years old today. For more on the happy occasion, you can check out this story in Wired magazine:

Differences and repetitions indeed!

CFP on "free labor"


Popular Culture Association/
American Culture Association National Conference
April 8-11, 2009
New Orleans, LA, USA

The Communication and Digital Culture Area of the Popular Culture Association is soliciting proposals for panels and individual papers that explore online participatory culture and the problematic concept of "free labor" in a network society.

Corporations are increasingly counting upon the activity of a "participatory consumer" to provide the content for sites that directly or indirectly generate revenue. Twenty five years ago, GNU operating system activist Richard Stallman famously distinguished the "free" in free software as "free as in free speech, not as in free beer." What kind of "free" is the labor of a participatory culture? How does the appropriation of this work by major corporations complicate our understanding of "free labor"?

Possible topics include:
  • Wikipedia and the Academy
  • Gift Economies Online
  • Free/Libre Open Source Software
  • Intellectual Property
  • Warez Subcultures
  • "Immaterial" Labor
  • Convergence & Consumer/Producers
  • DIY Media
  • Marx & the Digital Economy
  • Fan Culture Appropriation
Submit a 250 word maximum proposal (hard copy or electronic) to:

Mark Nunes, Chair
Department of English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts
Southern Polytechnic State University
Marietta, GA 30060-2896

Deadline for Submissions: November 30, 2008

Note: Communication and Digital Culture is a themed area. Submissions off-theme should be submitted to:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thank you, wise crowd (plus some news)

First, let me acknowledge all of the good folks who've written in to provide feedback on my paper about Amazon's Kindle e-reading device and what I'm calling "the labor of reading." Your contributions (i.e., your labor!) certainly will help to sharpen my presentation, which I'll be delivering later this week at the American Studies convention in Albuquerque, NM. Thank you, wise crowd!

I'm also writing to share a bit of good news: the piece got a mention on the Los Angeles Times blog, Jacket Copy. You can read the complete article by clicking here. I'm just thrilled, needless to say. Who would have thought this little old conference paper would get national media attention?

Once the dust has settled from my trip, I'll be sure to post the final, definitive version of the Kindle paper to the D&R Wiki. Thanks again for now, and let me know what you think about the article on the Times blog.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Calling on the wisdom of crowds

I just finished what's admittedly a pretty drafty draft of the paper I'll be presenting at next week's American Studies Association (ASA) convention in Albuquerque, NM. The piece is called "Kindle: The New Book Mobile or, The Labor of Reading in an Age of Ubiquitous Bookselling." It's my first academic meditation on's Kindle e-reading device, which was released last year to much fanfare among technophiles...and equally as much dread among bibliophiles.

You may recall that I've blogged three times about Kindle here on D&R--last November, June, and August. Now I'm asking for your help. I've posted the working draft of my ASA/Kindle paper to the Differences & Repetitions Wiki, which you can find by clicking here. I feel as though the argument is proceeding more or less in the right direction, but at the same time your feedback would help me to tighten up the paper overall.

The Kindle page on D&RW is set up to accept comments only rather actual changes to the text--this in contrast to my paper on Deleuze and communication from last year, which was (and remains!) a more open and collaborative authorial undertaking. In any case, I'd value any input you may have. Anonymous comments are welcome, too.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Adam Curtis is my favorite documentary filmmaker--and one of my favorite filmmakers, period. I was introduced to his work a few years ago by my good friends Elaine Vautier and Timothy Roscoe. My thinking hasn't been the same since.

Last December I blogged about his 2002 feature, The Century of the Self. This weekend I had the good fortune of discovering his most recent production, The Trap, which aired on the BBC in 2007 but of course never made its way to the United States. I've embedded some video, below, for those of you who'd like a peek at the first 10 minutes or so. You can watch the entire documentary in delicious snack-size portions on YouTube.

If I had to describe Curtis' work as a whole, I'd say he's an intellectual historian who happens to work in the documentary genre (which is to take nothing away from his skills as a documentarian). He has an uncanny knack for bringing complex ideas and systems of thought to life.

In The Trap, for example, Curtis demonstrates how game theory, anti-psychiatry, existentialism, Isaiah Berlin's "two concepts of freedom," and more converged and connected with one another to produce the highly circumscribed notion of "freedom" prevalent in the West today.

What Curtis' work also then shows is just how much ideas can and do matter. This is at once encouraging and frightening.

Many critics have suggested that anti-intellectualism now runs rampant in the United States and elsewhere. In an age of punditry, game shows like Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, Vice-Presidential debates in which "avoiding nuance" is a clarion call, etc., they claim that people no longer possess a tolerance for complex, long-form ideas.

Curtis' work blows that bit of doxa wide-open. His productions chronicle how, time and again, government officials, corporate CEOs, policy makers, management consultants, and others not only listen to and are guided by "esoteric" theories, but also how they find ways to translate those ideas into everyday practices and products.

And this, I suppose, is the rub: you can never know how bodies of thought--even well-intentioned ones--will get taken up and deployed, let alone by whom.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

U of I failed to do its homework

Courtesy of Gil Rodman, here's a link to the landmark United States Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines (1969). It demonstrates quite clearly that the University of Illinois' decision to bar faculty and staff from engaging in campaign speech on campus--including displaying buttons on their shirts and bumper stickers on their cars--is a violation of Constitutional principles. I've excerpted one of the more relevant passages below for those of you who'd prefer the Cliff's Notes version.

TINKER v. DES MOINES SCHOOL DIST., 393 U.S. 503 (1969)

...As we have discussed, the record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and no disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occurred. These petitioners merely went about their ordained rounds in school. Their deviation consisted only in wearing on their sleeve a band of black cloth, not more than two inches wide. They wore it to exhibit their disapproval of the Vietnam hostilities and their advocacy of a truce, to make their views known, and, by their example, to influence others to adopt them. They neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude in the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussion outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. In the circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny their form of expression.

Monday, September 29, 2008

NCA on the U of I

It's always a pleasure to begin the week on a positive note. Case in point: I learned today that the National Communication Association (NCA), the United States' largest professional organization representing communication researchers and teachers, issued the following statement condemning the University of Illinois' policy against campaign speech.

I'm very proud of and impressed by NCA for taking this stand. As a professional organization, it's rarely a trend-setter in the vein of, say, the Modern Language Association.

Here is a link to the statement on the NCA website, which contains additional links to the organization's stance on free expression, as well as to information about the U of I controversy. I've also appended the statement below for those of you who are more scroll-inclined.

For now, well done, NCA. Well done.

NCA Statement Regarding Campus Speech Codes

The National Communication Association believes that freedom of speech and assembly must hold a central position among American’s Constitutional principles, and we express our determined support for the right of peaceful expression.

As such, NCA opposes the University of Illinois’s decision to ban staff members from vocalizing their political affiliation or support for particular political candidates. By not allowing faculty and staff to display buttons, pins, or bumper stickers or attend political rallies of any kind, the University of Illinois is sending the message that faculty should not engage in discussions of a political and/or controversial nature. Not only does this suggestion limit their right to free expression, it seeks to suppress their ability to think and act critically in response to significant contemporary concerns. College campuses are places for faculty and staff to actively express their views and opinions on a variety of topics, including politics.

There is a risk to a free society when responsible advocacy is treated as a danger to be suppressed. Much good and little harm can ensue if we err on the side of freedom, whereas much harm and little good may follow if we err on the side of suppression.

By restricting individual forms of political expression, the University of Illinois system is depriving its faculty of an open and honest academic environment, one wherein learning occurs both inside and outside of the classroom.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's up with the University of Illinois?

From yesterday's Inside Higher Ed:
Sporting an Obama or McCain button? Driving a car with one of the campaigns’ bumper stickers? You might need to be careful on University of Illinois campuses.

The university system’s ethics office sent a notice to all employees, including faculty members, telling them that they could not wear political buttons on campus or feature bumper stickers on cars parked in campus lots unless the messages on those buttons and stickers were strictly nonpartisan. In addition, professors were told that they could not attend political rallies on campuses if those rallies express support for a candidate or political party.
Whoa. Talk about chilling--and, as far as I can tell, a pretty poorly conceived policy. Evidently it's not a problem if a U of I employee wears apparel to work emblazoned with a "Nike" logo, despite the company's well-documented exploitation of laborers in developing countries. How is that not a political endorsement, albeit of a somewhat indirect kind? And were I a professor not at Indiana but at Illinois, what if I wanted to teach students about rhetorics of political expression and propaganda using campaign stickers and bumper stickers? Would that be an acceptable use of these materials? And would I need to bring them onto campus appropriately shrouded so as not to suggest any partisanship?

Sigh. You get the point. The complete story is available here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Among the many reasons why I dislike Comcast

From yesterday's Wired Magazine Blog:
[Digital services provider] Comcast came clean with the Federal Communications Commission late Friday, detailing how it throttled and targeted peer-to-peer traffic -- maneuvers it has repeatedly denied....

By a 3-2 vote, the FCC concluded that Comcast monitored the content of its customers' internet connections and selectively blocked peer-to-peer connections in violation of network neutrality rules. The selective blocking of file sharing traffic interfered with users' rights to access the internet and to use applications of their choice, the commission said.
Beyond Comcast's aggressive anti-net neutrality shenanigans, the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the company's unilateral decision to remove Soap Net from my cable lineup. (Yes, I follow General Hospital....) One day it was there, the next, it was gone. Oh--and have I mentioned what I pay for cable and internet services in Indiana?

You can read the full story from Wired here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Goodbye, Sivacracy

Not sure if you're aware of this, but one of the best blogs out there (and not only because I contribute to it) is shutting down as of today. A bunch of us have been posting our goodbyes over at Sivacracy, and Siva Vaidhyanathan, our fearless leader, should be posting his farewell there sometime this evening. So check it out, leave some parting comments, and help give the site the send-off it deserves.

Even though Sivacracy's shutting down, rest assured that I'll still be here on Differences & Repetitions. We're three years strong now, and I can't see any reason to call it quits.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tech support...old school

Sorry it's been awhile. I spent early September preparing feverishly for last week's Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP) regional conference in Copenhagen, Denmark and for two talks that followed shortly thereafter at Uppsala University, Sweden. Life's been a blast, needless to say, albeit rather hectic. Hence the relative quiet here on D&R.

Anyway, until I can muster a proper blog post, I thought I'd share this fun YouTube video that my friend and colleague Isaac West recently sent my way. I realize it's been doing the rounds for awhile now, but I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who haven't yet seen it. Enjoy--and remember your Carolyn Marvin: all old technologies were once new technologies.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Fallout and follow-up from the RNC

Here's some information about the fallout from the recent Republican National Convention, sent to me by Ron Greene....

National Call for Action to Stop Police Brutality at the Republian
National Convention!

Support 300 people arrested in Saint Paul! Demand an end to illegal detention and brutality in Ramsey County Jail!

9/3/08, St. Paul - Approximately 300 people have been arrested for participating in demonstrations since the beginning of the Republican National Convention. The majority of arrestees remain in custody and are being held in inhumane conditions. Of the 300 arrested, approximately 120 have been accused of trumped-up felony charges by police; many of them are being held illegally beyond Minnesota’s 36-hour limit on detentions without formal charges.

All people who value democracy and fear for the erosion of our constitution, regardless of political affiliation, are called upon to demand an end to this egregious denial of constitutional and human rights. Prisoners have reported being denied medical treatment and essential medications, and many are engaged in a hunger strike to pressure the sheriffs to give them critical care. Many are being held in 23 hours/day lockdown and/or have not been allowed to meet with lawyers or make phone calls – especially trans prisoners. Several prisoners have been able to reach legal support to report brutal physical assaults by multiple corrections officers. The constitutional and legal rights of all prisoners are being denied across the board, with no apparent end to this outrageous treatment.

Please call the following offices and continue calling until all arrestees have been released:
  • St. Paul Mayor – Chris Coleman (651.266.8510)
  • Head of Ramsey County Jail – Capt. Ryan O’Neil (651.266-9350 ext 1)
  • Ramsey County Sheriff – Bob Fletcher (651.266.9333)
  • County Chief Judge Gearin (651.266.8266)
Demand the following:
  • Immediate medical attention as needed for ALL arrestees;
  • That the prisoners who haven’t given their names (Jane & John Does and Jesse Sparkles) have access to group meetings with a lawyer in jail;
  • Dismissal of all charges;
  • Release of all minors; and
  • Ensure trans prisoners have access to phone and attorneys, and are held in gender group of their choice.
  • Money is needed to help cover legal costs and get people out of jail. Any amount you can give is greatly appreciated. To donate by Pay Pal visit and click on the donate button.
For more details and up-to-date information about jail conditions and prisoner status, please see:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin and book banning

Today I ran across an intriguing story from the New York Times. Mostly it's about the political strategy presumptive Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin used when she ran for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska back in 1996. She turned the tables in the election by sidestepping more run-of-the-mill local fare such as sewers and snow removal. Instead, she campaigned on so-called "wedge issues" including abortion, religion, and gun rights. With these she unseated a three-term mayor and became a polarizing political figure in the process.

Even more compelling to me than all this, however, is the interest she expressed as mayor of Wasilla in banning some books at the local library. The Times has this to say:
Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”
I wish the Times had provided some indication as to which "morally or socially objectionable" books Pain expressed an interest in banning. For my part, I consider book banning to be undesirable, even in cases where the books in question constitute unpopular speech. I suppose that makes me a good liberal--not in the sense of someone who endorses a left-wing politics per se, but rather in the sense of someone who holds fast to at least some of the tents of liberalism.

What truly fascinates me about the issue of Palin's interest in book banning, though, is the synergy it seems to share with right-leaning religious groups who in recent years have attempted to get books such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter (of course there are many others) off of public library shelves. There are plenty of people who say books don't matter much anymore--that they're a medium in decline, that they've been edged out by television and the internet, etc. If that's true, then why all this interest on the part not only of the Christian right, but indeed of other groups, to ban them? Or, why all the outcry over Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison's 2006 swearing-in ceremony, in which he used not the Christian Bible but instead the Koran to consecrate his oath of office?

I don't have concrete answers to these questions as yet; they do open up some interesting future directions for my research. For now, though, I will say this: the Palin book-banning controversy, coupled with the other examples I mention above, suggest that print (and printed books in particular) is far from dead. If anything, print remains a lightning-rod for the some of the most important social controversies of our time.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fighting the RSA at the RNC

Occasionally I ask friends of mine to contribute a guest post to D&R. This one comes to you courtesy of my good buddy Ronald Walter Greene, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota and resident of the Twin Cities, a.k.a., ground-zero of the Republican National Convention (RNC). Things seems to be getting pretty dicey up there in terms of how authorities are dealing with the protests and the protesters. What follows is Ron's report from the front.

by Ronald Walter Greene

Starting first with disrupting the Poor Peoples Campaign on Thursday ( and targeting the RNC Welcoming Committee on Friday and Saturday ( the repressive state apparatus (RSA) has been busy arresting, intimidating and shaking down folks throughout the Twin Cities. The most visible act of the RSA is the preventive detentions of Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givens, Erik Oseland, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Nathanael Secor—The RNC 6—on probable cause holds. Show your solidarity by phoning the Ramsey County Jail at 651-266-9350 and demand their release.

Today (Sunday August 31) Twin Cities IndyMedia along with the National Lawyers Guild and Communities United Against Police Brutality filed a motion for an emergency restraining order against the police for intimidating and confiscating video equipment and cellular phones used to document police misconduct: Refusing to yield to a climate of fear, the Vets for Peace march took place today. Nine were arrested after some left the main march and climbed a security fence to “point out the utter failure and futility of war and the suffering that results from it":

To join in the fight against the RSA at the RNC Call St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman at 651-266-8510 and the Mayor of Minneapolis R.T. Rybak at 612-673-2100 in Minnesota, or 612-673-3000 outside of Minnesota. And join the September 1 March on the RNC to Stop the War: Folks gather at the State Capital at 11am. Be There or Be Square!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A memo to the Republican party


TO: The Republican Party

FROM: Ted Striphas

RE: Gov. Sarah Palin (R, Alaska), VP Candidate

Congratulations, Republican Party, on choosing your first female Vice-Presidential candidate in Alaska Governor Sarah Palin! You've managed to catch up to where the Democrats were twenty-four years ago. Good show. Clearly you are the party best suited to lead us into the future.

Hari Puttar takes Bollywood by storm...maybe

From Monday's BBC Entertainment News:
Warner sues over Puttar movie
Warner Bros says it wants to protect intellectual property rights.

Harry Potter maker Warner Bros is suing an Indian film company over the title of upcoming film Hari Puttar - A Comedy Of Terrors, according to reports.

Warner Bros feels the name is too similar to that of its world famous young wizard, according to trade paper The Hollywood Reporter.
With thanks to Simon Frost at the University of Southern Denmark for passing on the story to me, the complete version of which you can read here. I'm in the midst of finishing up a project right now, but some commentary on the suit should follow from me soon, hopefully.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Print may be dead...

...but that doesn't mean it can't be repurposed. Case in point: this intriguing Re-Nest post, via Lifehacker:
Weblog Apartment Therapy Re-Nest shows how to repurpose a pile of old magazines or vintage books into a small table in just about 10 minutes. Pulling it off is a simple matter of tucking every 10 pages or so back into the spine of the magazine--you don't even need glue or any additional supplies.
I'll admit that the long shot of the plant stand appearing on Re-Nest (not the one appearing here) makes the piece look a little unstable, though I still do like the concept. In any case, at the rate things are going you should be able to decorate your whole living room with old books or magazines pretty soon. Take this post from BoingBoing, for instance, which talks about a chair made out of books that otherwise would have been discarded.

Books and magazines have long been used as furniture, or at least as accouterments, as Janice Radway's A Feeling for Books, Henry Petrowski's The Book on the Book Shelf, and Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins' Reading National Geographic all have clearly shown. Still, I wonder if the mass digitization of printed matter, combined with an upsurge in feelings of environmental responsibility, will hasten the transformation of books and magazines into furniture proper.

Then again, all this just as easily could be a passing fad.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CFP: Media in Transition 6

Media in Transition 6: Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission
International Conference April 24-26, 2009
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


In his seminal essay "The Bias of Communication" Harold Innis distinguishes between time-based and space-based media. Time-based media such as stone or clay, Innis agues, can be seen as durable, while space-based media such as paper or papyrus can be understood as portable, more fragile than stone but more powerful because capable of transmission, diffusion, connections across space. Speculating on this distinction, Innis develops an account of civilization grounded in the ways in which media forms shape trade, religion, government, economic and social structures, and the arts.

Our current era of prolonged and profound transition is surely as media-driven as the historical cultures Innis describes. His division between the durable and the portable is perhaps problematic in the age of the computer, but similar tensions define our contemporary situation. Digital communications have increased exponentially the speed with which information circulates. Moore's Law continues to hold, and with it a doubling of memory capacity every two years; we are poised to reach transmission speeds of 100 terabits per second, or something akin to transmitting the entire printed contents of the Library of Congress in under five seconds.

Such developments are simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. They profoundly challenge efforts to maintain access to the vast printed and audio-visual inheritance of analog culture as well as efforts to understand and preserve the immense, enlarging universe of text, image and sound available in cyberspace.

What are the implications of these trends for historians who seek to understand the place of media in our own culture?

What challenges confront librarians and archivists who must supervise the migration of print culture to digital formats and who must also find ways to preserve and catalogue the vast and increasing range of words and images generated by new technologies?

How are shifts in distribution and circulation affecting the stories we tell, the art we produce, the social structures and policies we construct?

What are the implications of this tension between storage and transmission for education, for individual and national identities, for notions of what is public and what is private?

We invite papers from scholars, journalists, media creators, teachers, writers and visual artists on these broad themes. Potential topics might include:
  • The digital archive
  • The future of libraries and museums
  • The past and future of the book
  • Mobile media
  • Historical systems of communication
  • Media in the developing world
  • Social networks
  • Mapping media flows
  • Approaches to media history
  • Education and the changing media environment
  • New forms of storytelling and expression
  • Location-based entertainment
  • Hyperlocal media and civic engagement
  • New modes of circulation and distribution
  • The transformation of television -- from broadcast to download
  • Backlashes against media change
  • Virtual worlds and digital tourism
  • The continuity principle: what endures or resists digital transformation?
  • The fate of reading

Abstracts of no more than 500 words or full papers should be sent to Brad Seawell at no later than Friday, Jan. 9, 2009. We will evaluate abstracts and full papers on a rolling basis and early submission is highly encouraged. All submissions should be sent as attachments in a Word format. Submitted material will be subject to editing by conference organizers.

Email is preferred, but submissions can be mailed to:

Brad Seawell
MIT 14N-430
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Please include a biographical statement of no more than 100 words. If your paper is accepted, this statement will be used on the conference Web site.

Please monitor the conference Web site at for registration information, travel information and conference updates.

Abstracts will be accepted on a rolling basis until Jan. 9, 2009.

The full text of your paper must be submitted no later than Friday, April 17. Conference papers will be posted to the conference Web site and made available to all conferees.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pushing 30

From the Wired Listening Post:
On this day [August 17th --TS] in 1982, Sony and Philips Consumer Electronics released the first CDs to the German public, forever changing the way music would be distributed, marketed, consumed and appreciated. Now would be a great time to change it all again.
Does this mean I'm officially getting old? In any case, you can check out the full article here. It's worth the read.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kindle vs. Itouch: The throwdown


I can't believe it's been nearly a month since I last blogged. I'd resolved early in 2008 to post a couple of times a week whenever I could, and until June or so, I pretty much managed to stick to it. But for a variety of reasons July and now part of August got away from me. I thank you all for your patience. I'm glad to be back.

I've blogged off and on over the past several months about's e-reading device, Kindle. Well, I finally acquired one in early June and have spent my summer travels field-testing it in preparation for a paper I'll be presenting at the American Studies Association convention this October. I also happened to purchase an iPod Touch this summer, and despite Apple CEO Steve Jobs' claim that people don't read anymore, I've been indulging in Plato's Parmenides using the device's Stanza e-reading application. My experiences with both devices have been striking. Because their differences seem to me more acute than their similarities, I figured now might be an appropriate time for a Kindle versus iTouch "throwdown."

I'll be honest: I'm pretty surprised by the reported success of Kindle and its rosy prospects for the future. The device does what it's supposed to do, more or less, but as sophisticated as it may be, Kindle still strikes me as fairly primitive.

For me, Kindle's "wow" factor comes mainly from the built-in EVDO wireless technology, which allows you to download any Kindle edition in the Amazon catalog anywhere, on the fly, without a separate laptop or mobile phone. As a researcher and writer, there's something alluring (and potentially, economically draining) about having instantaneous access to a library consisting of 125,000+ titles, many (although not all) of which cost less than their printed counterparts. No doubt Amazon wants users to second-guess making trips to the library or to nearby bookstores.

Still, I find title navigation to be awkward and unpredictable. It's easy enough to find my way to a Kindle book's cover, title page, interior chapters, and other major landmarks , but making my way through the highlights, notes and dog ears I've made rarely results in my ending up where I'd meant to go. The highlighting and note-making functions work well enough; their precision is limited, however, by the fact that you can only highlight entire lines rather than individual words, and only then on a single page at a time.

As for the much-heralded e-ink screen, it reminds me of an Etch-a-Sketch, only crisper. The latter, incidentally was first released in 1973--around the time that color TV really began to take over in earnest in the U.S. from the old black and white system. I wish Amazon had taken a cue here and aimed for a color screen, although I realize that their doing so could have resulted in an undesirable price point for Kindle. The screen renders text quite well, although it still seems vaguely pixelated to me. Word spacing and character tracking could be improved. Images are another matter, though. A colleague to whom I showed my Kindle told me he was "disappointed" by the device's ability to render images. I agree.

Then, of course, there's Amazon's proprietary e-book format and its use of digital rights management. I've already blogged about these at length, so I won't belabor the point here except to say three words: open content, please!

iPod Touch
Talk about "wow" factor all around. The device looks great, it fits in the palm of your hand, and it's not a single-use device. (Kindle, incidentally, comes with an experimental web browser and plays mp3s.) This last point is especially important. I'm a fan of The Food Network's Alton Brown, who insists that kitchen devices dedicated to a single foodstuff generally ought to be avoided, for they too easily become superfluous. (Salad Shooter, anyone?) With a proliferation of high-tech gadgetry ranging from laptops to mobile phones, e-readers, and more, getting a device that can do more, and do "more" exceptionally well, should be the order of the day. That's what the iTouch delivers.

There are a bunch of e-reading applications available for the iPod Touch and iPhone, but for now, I prefer Stanza. It's free, as are the books associated with the software. The free content is both an advantage and a drawback. The advantage, of course, is that all Stanza books are available gratis, brought to you courtesy of the public domain using the non-proprietary, Open E-Book formatting standard. On the downside, Stanza only offers "classic" works of fiction and non-fiction. Anything current will have wait for decades to make its way to Stanza, a result of the egregious extension of copyright terms.

Text on the iTouch version of Stanza renders beautifully, and the tactile navigation's a breeze. The screen is bright, clear...and in color. The major limitation I see is the application's inability to mark text and to record annotations. Here Kindle is the clear winner. I realize, though, that not everyone reads books like me; I plod through text, underlining passages and making notes as I go. But for those who simply read, there shouldn't be much of a problem.

Bottom Line
If someone would only synthesize the best features of Kindle and the iTouch, then we'd have an exceptional e-reader on our hands. For now, Kindle wins on the number of available titles and annotation features, while iTouch/Stanza is ahead on just about everything else. On balance, I suppose that I'm more impressed with the latter than I am with the former.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ownership rights

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Gerard Jones' wonderful book called Men of Tomorrow, which is a history of comic books' "golden age." Don't worry--I'm not going to re-review it. The book did get me thinking about another type of publishing, though--academic journal publishing--and the issue of ownership rights to one's work. That's what I want to reflect on here.

As Jones shows, the comic book industry's "golden age" (roughly 1938-1960) really wasn't all that golden, especially when you look at things from the standpoint of labor. Writers and artists were largely considered to be hacks by comic book publishers, and with rare exceptions, most were paid a pittance. There were a few star writers and artists, of course--people like Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and Batman creator Bob Kane. But stars or not, comic book writers and artists were almost universally compelled to sign away the rights to their words, illustrations, and characters to the publishers who employed them. (Kane was an exception, but only because of a legal loophole.) That was a basic condition of their employment and of the system writ large. Most sufferred terribly a a result. What's all the more shameful is that comic book publishers often claimed to be making little or no money off of the writers' and artists' work when, in fact, they were profiting handsomely from it.

There seem to me some rough parallels between the "golden age" of comic books and contempory academic journal publishing. Most significant here is the issue of ownership rights to one's work. Nearly all journal publishing contracts stipulate that authors must transfer copyright and other entitlements to the publishers of our articles. We retain some rights, of course, including (thankfully) the right to be identified as the author of the work. We're also typically allowed to re-use material from our published articles in whatever books we may write, although generally our doing so requires asking for the journal publishers' permission. But otherwise, like the writers and artists of comic books' golden age, publication of our journal articles is contingent on publishers stripping us of most of the rights to our creative work.

Now, the old saw usually goes something like this: academic publishing is the pecuniary backwater of the publishing industry. Consequently, scholars must grant journal publishers exclusive rights to publish, license, and otherwise commercially exploit our work. Otherwise, the latter would be unable to cover production costs, must less hope to turn a profit.

This may be true where the journals in question are published by not-for-profit university presses. It's not the case, however, for large, for-profit journal publishers. Consider this: Taylor & Franics/Informa's revenue topped £1.1 billion GBP in 2007, an increase of 9% over the preceding year. John Wiley & Sons 2007 merger with Blackwell was a US$1 billion deal. The proposed merger of journal giants Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer (now Cinven), in 1997/19998, would have been a US$9 billion deal had it gone through. These companies and others like them are hardly straped for cash.

So what might we do to improve the situation for academic authors? We might take a cue from the comic book industry. In the 1990s, star writers and illustrators such as Todd McFarlane stopped working for Marvel and DC, the industry majors, and began their own lines. Significantly, they allowed those in their emply to retain rights to the words, pictures, and characters they created. This totally transformed the industry. The new companies almost immediately siphoned off the best talent from Marvel and DC, who were then forced to offer similar deals to writers and artists in order to remain competitive.

I wonder: is something similar possible in academic journal publishing? Is there a way to allow authors to retain most rights to our published work, and perhaps even to profit directly from it? If we could create a journal like that--a successful one--might it not compel the large journal publishers to follow? These are questions I'll consider in a future blog post.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

CFP/SCMS: Online Publishing

This Call for Papers landed yesterday in my email in-box, and I figured some D&R readers might be interested. The proposed session will explore the future of scholarly communication--a very timely topic indeed. Enjoy, and please contribute if you're able to get yourself to Tokyo.

Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference
Tokyo, Japan
May 21-24, 2009

Call for Papers for a Proposed Workshop: Online Publishing

Publishing in the cinema and media studies community has grown considerably in the past few years. In addition to the traditional print format, online journals and blogs have become a viable resource for educators and students in our field. This workshop will examine the state of publishing in cinema and media studies by looking back at what has already been accomplished in print, and looking forward towards the promising (and potentially not so promising) directions that online publication might take. We will consider the differences between print and online forums of scholarly discourse, as well as evaluate the role that online publications fulfill for both the exploration of subjects and also for professional advancement. Topics for discussion will include (though need not be limited to): the production of online journals; the past, present, and future of print publication; the scholarly opportunities and limitations of blogs; and the legitimacy of print and online publications as resources for scholars and students alike.

Questions for consideration include:
  • What are the challenges and opportunities of online publishing?
  • Is there a future for print publication?
  • What is the relationship between print and online publication?
  • Are blog posts viable resources for academic research and writing?
  • What role does professional accountability/peer review play in the self-publishing/blog paradigm?
  • Are there networks or communities of academic cinema and media studies publications or bloggers?
  • What role should interactive or dynamic content play in online academic discourse?
  • Is there resistance to open-access models of online academic publishing?
  • How does (or should) academic writing change across media platforms (print, online, blog)?
We would like to bring together professionals with direct experience producing print and/or online publications, academics who have extensive experience publishing in print and/or online publications, as well as graduate students currently working on the staff of online and/or print publications to discuss the past, present, and future of academic publication in cinema and media studies.

If you are interested in participating, please contact: John Bridge ( and Jen Porst (

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Men of Tomorrow


It's rare that I read a book and feel compelled to reread it immediately. But that's what happened when I finished Gerard Jones' Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (Basic Books, 2004). It offers a fascinating look into a nascent industry full of fast-talking hustlers, shrewd accountants, and nerdy young men all struggling to make their mark on U.S. culture in the 20th century.

Jones is an outstanding writer. I say this having read a fair amount of work by other comic book authors who've decided to switch genres, turning either to novels or to nonfiction. Usually the work isn't a disaster, but then again, neither is it all that memorable. It's a different story for Jones. He penned Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman early on in his writing career, where he developed a knack for exposition and an ear for engaging dialogue.

He uses both skills to his advantage in Men of Tomorrow. The book moves nimbly between large-scale social/cultural history and more intimate, narrative reconstructions of the lives of the early comic industry's key figures. What results is a precarious yet perfectly executed balancing act. Jones' account is rich with historical detail, yet he never manages to lose the plot.

The book opens with an aged Jerry Siegel, co-creator (with Joe Shuster) of Superman, learning that a blockbuster movie featuring the Man of Steel would soon be making its way onto the silver screen. It was the mid-1970s. Siegel was working as a mail clerk in Southern California, barely making ends meet and seething inside about having signed away rights to the lucrative character decades before. Men of Tomorrow then takes a sharp turn back in time and space: to New York City's Lower East Side, circa the early 1900s, where we're introduced to the sons of Jewish immigrants who'd go on to become the authors, illustrators, editors, printers, and distributors of a peripheral print genre that would, with time, become a part of the American cultural mainstream. Eventually the book returns to Siegel's desperate, last-ditch effort to secure rights to Superman--a success, it turns out, owing the rallying of fans and others to the cause.

Jones isn't only an outsanding writer, he's a talented historian and analyst. He's read practically all of the secondary literature, scholarly and otherwise, on comic books. He interviewed most of the early industry's key players at one time or another, in addition to their family members. He meticulously reconstructs contested information and never tries to pass it off as anything but. Beyond these more insular, disciplinary concerns, his research displays a remarkable sensitivity to comics' critical reception by midcentury academics and politicians who, owing to experiences far removed from those in the comic book industry, fundamentally misunderstood the genre's psychosocial and cultural impact. Jones is a historian with a deft touch.

Men of Tomorrow ends with a provocative claim, namely, that U.S. culture today is significantly the product of geeks. And in this respect it shares something of a kinship with another book I admire: Fred Turner's From Counterculture to Cyberculture, which I've mentioned in passing on this blog. In their best moments, both texts capture something rare. They manage to put into words what Raymond Williams called a "structure of feeling"--what it felt like to live (for some, at least) in 20th century America.

This is the mark of history at its best. Excelsior!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Another snippet on journal publishing

Well, at long last, I've finished my essay, "Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Academic Journal Publishing." I'll be posting a full draft of the piece to the "Acknowledged Goods" page on the Differences & Repetitions Wiki. The wiki formatting will take some time, however, and for now, I have to direct my energies toward revising an essay on Harry Potter and the simulacrum. Once the full version of "Acknowledged Goods" is up on D&R-W, you'll be sure to hear about it. For now, comments, ratings, and other feedback on this excerpt are welcome here.

[From the Section on Alienation]

...Most of us probably have done it at one time or another. By “it” I mean signing a publication agreement for a recently accepted journal article without reading the document carefully, or without pausing to consider the meaning and consequences of all the warrants, indemnities, and clauses ending with those ominous sounding words, “in perpetuity and in any form.” Like me, you probably resigned yourself to committing to the agreement, since the publisher told you, perhaps through a low-level editorial contact at the journal, that publication of your piece was contingent on your doing so without delay. Signing on the dotted line is “policy” she or he probably told you, politely but firmly, and if you do not do so promptly, you are liable to hold up production on the issue in which your work is scheduled to appear. Worse, if you hold out for too long, you risk having your essay dropped altogether. And so begrudgingly you sign, because keeping the process moving along would seem to outweigh whatever benefits might come from making an issue of it.

To me, this is among the most profound—and profoundly alienating—moments of academic labor. I mean this in both the Marxian sense of “alienation,” in which participation in the system of objectified wage labor existentially impoverishes of one’s species-being, as well as in the more strictly legal sense of the term, as defined by Margaret Jane Radin: “a separation of something—an entitlement, right, or attribute—from its holder.” Beyond these definitions, the ritual signing of journal publication contracts is alienating in at least three specific ways.

First, the extreme sense of urgency that tends to surround the whole process is incommensurate with the time it takes for most academic articles to appear in print. In my experience, this interval can last anywhere from six to eighteen months from the day I sign a publication agreement; in rare cases it has been shorter, and I know of myriad instances in which it has taken even longer. The atmosphere of last-minute-ism may help keep the publication process running smoothly. On the downside, it can preempt academic authors from reflecting critically on the legal documents we are charged with signing, which can in turn lead to the hasty forfeiture of key rights and entitlements—assuming we are even aware of them.

Second, the process cultivates a habitus in which we are perpetually disposed “to take one for the team.” Practically no one wants to be the curmudgeon responsible for delaying an entire journal issue while trying to negotiate terms of publication. Publishers recognize this. Consciously or not, they leverage this goodwill by persuading authors to sign away our rights in the name of a collective interest (i.e., timely publication). They do so by capitalizing on an incentive structure in which, ironically, a desire to be perceived as “collegial” and “professional” compels academic authors to deprive one another of the chance to question journal publishers, attorneys, or others about the legal ramifications of publishing our work.

Finally, the contractual moment alienates us scholars from the products of our labor. It customarily involves the transfer of key rights (e.g., ownership, duplication, derivation, etc.) from author to publisher, in whole or in part, in exchange for a variety of value-added services (e.g., typesetting, copyediting, marketing, etc.) and indirect rewards (e.g., promotion, tenure, professional recognition, etc.). Those benefits notwithstanding, signing on the dotted line transforms our labor into economically valuable intellectual property and, down the line, capital—assets publishers use to compete with one another in the marketplace. Our signatures allow journal publishers to disavow liability in matters of copyright infringement, obscenity, and so forth, moreover, thereby endowing them with deep ownership rights over material for which they accept only shallow legal responsibilities. An added “bonus” is that academic authors typically must shoulder all of the costs related to reproducing copyrighted images, song lyrics, and related materials, even though it is the journal publisher who reaps any financial rewards. In these cases, we are not merely giving our labor away, essentially for free; we are effectively paying a third party for the “privilege” of doing so.

Journal publication contracts are magical documents indeed. They transfigure good knowledge into saleable knowledge goods, in a series of moves that implicate us in, while keeping us at arm’s length from, the noisy sphere of industrial production....

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rate this post!

Sorry to keep obsessing over new blogging features, but I have another exciting one to share with you. Now, along with comments and sharing, you can weigh in on the quality of my blog posts using the "ratings" attribute, which appears a few lines under each entry. What's nice is that you needn't be logged into Blogger or any other service to do this. Simply scroll over the stars and give the post as many (or, ahem, as few) as you want.

I should add that something about this feature vaguely reminds me of the American Idol version of "democracy," but I suppose that's a post for another time....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Good housekeeping

You may have noticed that D&R looks a little, well, different than it used to. Yesterday, I made a few changes that I hope will result in a more readerly site.

The first thing I did was get rid of the "DIGG" tags that used to float to the upper right of each blog post. I liked them, but unfortunately, they caused D&R to load much too slowly for my tastes. You can still DIGG my posts, though; in fact, you can do a lot more now. I added a new feature to the site, which you can find just below each blog entry. Simply roll over the little gray box, and you can share any post instantly on, Digg, Facebook, Furl, Google, MySpace, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Technorati, Twitter, Yahoo, and many other popular social networking/bookmarking sites. Please, try it out!

Hopefully these changes not only will make D&R move a little faster, but also will help the site to become more interactive. I do it all for you, dear readers, always. ; )

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Against "elitism"

Courtesy of last night's Colbert Report comes this pithy segment against "elitism." And no, it's not against elitism per se. Instead, it's directed against a political culture that impugns relativism, only then to turn around and assail those who appear to have a modicum of intelligence or expertise. The segment's about the charge of elitism, in other words, and its disingenuous use. Brilliant (elitist?) stuff. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Scan this test!

From today's Inside Higher Ed:
Friday was the last day of classes at the University of California at San Diego, where students faced a weekend of studying before finals began on Monday. If any of them ventured to a nearby La Jolla shopping center, they might have encountered representatives from a new Web site there to make their pitch: Give us a test — any old test — and we’ll give you a $5 Starbucks coffee card.

If that sounds like a surprisingly blunt quid pro quo, it’s consistent with the purpose of the site, called, which encourages students to upload tests and exams from their courses — anonymously, if they want — for others to find and download. The concept has already aroused suspicion and concern among some faculty members at UCSD, where many of the posted tests originated, and seems to run afoul of both traditionally accepted norms of academic integrity and, potentially, copyright law.

Even though I'm vigilant about changing the content of my exams, I do not permit my students to keep their tests once I've marked them. I always review their tests in class with them, however, and although I collect the documents thereafter, I make it clear that it's the students' right to access their exams should they have questions, want to review the material in anticipation of future exams, etcetera.

I implemented this policy many years ago now (in graduate school, I believe), after hearing many stories about old exams finding their way into files and getting passed down through generations of students.

PostYourTest obviously raises the stakes on the old "exam file." I wonder: should I begin placing copyright declarations on all future exams I create? And has it really come to that?

Anyway, you can read the full Inside Higher Ed story here.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Something to ponder - Successories® edition

I was thumbing through the Skymall catalog on my last airplane trip and stumbled upon the page for Successories®. That's the company that sells those hokey "motivational" wall hangings that adorn many a corporate office. Well, for some reason today I happened to be thinking about the company' s slogans (they're hard to shake, I suppose), which stress the virtues of character, excellence, determination, and above all, teamwork. This prompted...

Something to ponder, #3: Why do people make such a big deal about there being no "I" in "team," when the letters "M" and "E" both are so glaringly there?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

New to the blog roll...

...Kim Christen's Long Road and David Novak's None Unchanged. Kim does great work on (among other topics) Aboriginal cultures and intellectual property rights. David is an up-and-coming communication researcher at Clemson, whom I met when he was a graduate student at Ohio University.

Be sure to check out their sites! Oh--and David and I use the same blog template, so don't be confused by all the (forgive me) difference and repetition.

Monday, June 02, 2008

More thoughts on Amazon's Kindle

This one comes to me somewhat circuitously, from my José Afonso Furtado Twitter feed. José is amazing. He Twitters about book news every day, practically all day, and I'm beginning to wonder when the man sleeps. His feed is like a stock market ticker, only for book mavens.

So apparently,'s electronic reading device, Kindle, which I blogged about back in November, caused something of a stir at this year's BookExpo America. The event, which wrapped up this past weekend in New York City, is the major annual book industry trade gathering in the United States.

At the Expo, publishers expressed concern with the price of Amazon's Kindle editions. In almost all cases, they're lower than those of the corresponding bound, physical volumes, and in many instances, Amazon has been selling the e-editions at a loss.

This pricing strategy is consistent with the company's prevailing business model, which has tended to forgo short- to medium-term profit in favor of building longterm customer loyalty. With Kindle, Amazon's reasoning seems to be: a major economic incentive is the only way to encourage sufficient numbers of people to switch over to electronic books and thus to make the technology viable on a mass scale.

This scares the heck out of publishers, many of whom, as today's New York Times notes, want to charge the same amount of money for e- and p-books. (That's what I'm calling paper-based editions these days.) Their reasoning seems to go something like this: the book industry's hurting (isn't it always?), and the only way to increase profit is to eliminate as many fixed capital costs as possible.

What's intriguing to me about this latest ebook kerfuffle is the book industry's apparent short-sightedness. It seems to be assuming that there's an absolute price threshold below which it cannot sell enough books to maintain profitability. To put it differently, the industry seems disinclined toward Chris Anderson's notion of the long tail, which stresses sustained, aggregate sales of digital goods over the long term.

The BEA controversy therefore makes me wonder how much the book industry's professed economic woes, and indeed broader laments about the "decline of reading," have to do with publishers' unwillingness to get more creative with their pricing. It seems intuitive to raise prices to increase profits; this has been the book industry's fallback position for decades. But Amazon seems to be saying the opposite: lower your prices, and you'll gain readers and increase sales. Could there be a more apt illustration of 20th vs. 21st century business models?

With that said, I still have serious misgivings about Kindle, which I expressed back in November. I'm also planning to say more about Kindle here in the coming months and at this October's American Studies Association conference. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Something to ponder - comparative music edition

As I was eating breakfast and listening to the radio this morning, the DJ played back-to-back songs by Billy Joel and Elton John. There was something about them that struck me as similar. Hence...

Something to ponder, #2: Is Billy Joel America's Elton John?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Journal publishing in cultural studies

Quite some time ago, I drafted a short conference paper called, "Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Scholarly Journal Publishing." I've presented versions of it at the annual cultural studies conference we hold here at Indiana University and at the "Cultural Studies Now" conference in London (both in 2007). I'll be presenting still another, more refined version of the paper at "Crossroads in Cultural Studies" this July in Kingston, Jamaica.

Since I'm done revising my book, I'm able to return to "Acknowledged Goods" and to begin developing it in earnest. To that end, I've placed a snippet of the paper-in-progress on the Differences and Repetitions Wiki, which you can access by clicking here. I'd appreciate any comments you may have. You can leave feedback right on the site or email suggestions to me directly (

Currently, there are only two paragraphs and a couple of tables, so the material shouldn't take you too long to read. The information about journal publishers and their subscription prices may surprise and even alarm you (or, maybe not, if you've been following the open access debates). I'll be adding more to the document in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Something to ponder - premiere edition

I've decided to add a new and probably periodic feature to D&R--a series of posts called, "something to ponder." In it, I'll pose a question I believe is worth thinking about. These posts won't contain much in the way of reflection on my part; that'll be up to you, dear readers, either on your own, or, if you're inclined to think out loud, in the blog comments.

Enjoy--and ponder away!

Something to ponder, #1: Why is it that the United States Federal Reserve has decided to cut interest rates, which presumably will drive more people into debt, as a way of mitigating the current credit crisis?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Why did I join Facebook?

It was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose.

By "it," I mean signing up for Facebook. I'd held out for quite some time, my resolve bolstered by an informal straw poll I conducted this past January, in which my friends (not the Facebook variety) and interlocutors on D&R told me that I wasn't missing much by avoiding the popular social networking site.

LIARS!!!!!!!!!! Apparently just about everyone I know, or have ever known, was already on Facebook, which makes me about the last person on earth to join. I suppose it's worth narrating how I ended up there.

To put it as straightforwardly as possible, Twitter is the gateway drug for Facebook. Over the last year or so I'd incorporated various RSS news feeds onto my academic website, Bookworm, since I thought it might be nice to have some elements that updated constantly. I was never really satisfied with them, though, and so about a month or two ago, I made the fateful decision to join Twitter and place a badge on the site. I figured it might be a nice way to add real-time information about my research projects, conference presentations, publications, and so forth. And then something unexpected happened. People started following my Twitter feed, and eventually, I, theirs. It was riveting. One of my followers even proposed a picnic "Tweetup" to all his followers. Suddenly, I realized that virtual connections might indeed translate into "real world" ones.

I also blame Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. I just started reading it in earnest the other night and became enthralled with his portrait of "connectors." These are people who know people--lots of people. Connectors are able to move in and across many different social circles, because they tend to maintain what Gladwell calls "weak ties." For them, connection is far more important than depth in a relationship, which allows them to stay in touch with a sprawling array of people. That sounded pretty Facebook to me.

So after much gnashing of teeth, I bit the bullet last night and signed up for Facebook. At 7:30 p.m., I registered. At 9:30 p.m., I had 17 friends. This morning, I have 28 and counting. I'm still not sure what to make of it all, honestly, but I'm intrigued to see how things develop. It's been nice reconnecting with old friends, though I fear for Facebook becoming a major time-suck. This was confirmed not only by the two hours I spent online last night, but also by some of the comments my friends had left on my Facebook wall. They said things to the effect of, "welcome to the black hole" and "sucker!"

I'll admit, I'm pretty awkward on Facebook right now. I can barely tell my profile page from my home page, and I have no idea what a zombie war is or why you'd want to fight one. I'm anxiously anticipating my colleague Ilana Gershon's book, therefore, which will provide a road map (among other things) to interpersonal dynamics on Facebook. For now, though, I'm really just fumbling through. Please bear with me.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More open access

Here's some more good news about open access publishing in the humanities, and it comes at a very interesting time for me. Now that my book, The Late Age of Print, is more or less finished, I'm about to return to the "Cultural Studies and Journal Publishing" essay I've been pecking at for some time now and presenting bits of at conferences.

It's remarkable just how far things have come in a year, especially in the humanities, which has lagged way, way behind the sciences, medicine, and technical fields in terms of making its journal publishing apparatus more open and less corporate. Still, I wonder: does OA journal publishing need to remain so resolutely hierarchical? That's a question I'll be pondering, probably in the conclusion to my essay. I'll be posting the piece to the Differences & Repetitions Wiki for feedback once it's a bit farther along.

Anyway, here's the OA announcement. Congratulations to all those involved on launching the Open Humanities Press initiative, and thank you for your vision.

– Open Access expands to humanities disciplines with a bold new publishing initiative in critical and cultural theory.

Brussels, Belgium – On May 12, 2008, the Open Humanities Press (OHP) will launch with 7 of the leading Open Access journals in critical and cultural theory. A non-profit, international grass-roots initiative, OHP marks a watershed in the growing embrace of Open Access in the humanities.

“OHP is a bold and timely venture” said J. Hillis Miller, Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, a long-time supporter of the Open Access movement and OHP board member. “It is designed to make peer-reviewed scholarly and critical works in a number of humanistic disciplines and cross-disciplines available free online. Initially primarily concerned with journals, OHP may ultimately also include book-length writings. This project is an admirable response to the current crisis in scholarly publishing and to the rapid shift from print media to electronic media. This shift, and OHP’s response to it, are facets of what has been called ‘critical climate change.’”

“The future of scholarly publishing lies in Open Access” agreed Jonathan Culler, Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cornell University and fellow member of OHP’s editorial advisory board. “Scholars in the future should give careful consideration to the where they publish, since their goal should be to make the products of their research as widely available as possible, to people throughout the world. Open Humanities Press is a most welcome initiative that will help us move in this direction.”

OHP will give new confidence to humanities academics who wish to make their work freely accessible but have concerns about the academic standards of online publishing. In addition to being peer-reviewed, all OHP journals undergo rigorous vetting by an editorial board of leading humanities scholars.

OHP’s board includes Alain Badiou, Chair of Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, Donna Haraway, Professor of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies, UC Santa Cruz, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Director of the International Center for Writing and Translation, UC Irvine, Gayatri Spivak, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University, Peter Suber, Open Access Project Director for Public Knowledge and Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College, and Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University, who has been leading the public debate on the crisis of academic publishing in the humanities.

“Open-access publishing in serious, peer-reviewed online scholarly journals is one of the keys to solving a financial crisis that has afflicted university libraries everywhere and has had a chilling effect on virtually every academic discipline” said Greenblatt.“Making scholarly work available without charge on the internet has offered hope for the natural sciences and now offers hope in the humanities.”

With initial offerings in continental philosophy, cultural studies, new media, film and literary criticism, OHP serves researchers and students as the Open Access gateway for editorially-vetted scholarly literature in the humanities. The first journals to become part of OHP are Cosmos and History, Culture Machine, Fibreculture, Film-Philosophy, International Journal of Zizek Studies, Parrhesia, and Vectors.

“But it’s not simply a matter of what Open Access can do for the humanities” added Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts at Coventry University, co-editor of Culture Machine and one of the co-founders of OHP. “It is also a case of what can the humanities do for Open Access. Researchers, editors and publishers in the humanities have developed very different professional cultures and intellectual practices to the STMs [Science, Technology, and Medicine] who have dominated the discussion around Open Access to date. OHP is ideally positioned to explore some of the exciting new challenges and perspectives in scholarly communication that are being opened up for Open Access as it is increasingly adopted within the humanities.”


Open Humanities Press is an international Open Access publishing collective specializing in critical and cultural theory. OHP was formed by academics to overcome the current crisis in scholarly publishing that threatens intellectual freedom and academic rigor worldwide. OHP journals are academically certified by OHP’s independent board of international scholars. All OHP publications are peer-reviewed, published under open access licenses, and freely and immediately available online at